The earliest education of the young horse begins on the ground. People often underestimate the importance of this stage, or, due to ignorance, already begin to create problems that will effect the horse for the rest for his or her life.
The Lunging Equipment.
Lunging should be done from a lunging cavesson. This can either be placed over the top of the bridle or used alone. The cavesson should be padded across the nose to protect the delicate nose area.
Finding a good lunging cavesson these days can be quite hard. Too much padding around the nose results in the handler being unable to get a correct fit. This can cause the noseband to spin when lunging which can then cause the cheek pieces on the outside to slide onto the outside eye. Needless to say, this isn’t pleasant for the poor horse.
Personally, I much prefer cavessons made of good quality leather. The noseband should be padded (much like the padding you would expect on a good cavesson noseband)
In addition to the lunging cavesson and lunge line; the rider should equip themselves with a lunging whip and, vitally important, gloves. Exciteable horses and the rough webbed material most commonly used in lunge lines make for a bad combination – preserve your hands at all costs.
Why a Cavesson?
Many people choose to attach the lunge line directly to the bit rings. Either by clipped to the outside ring, threading over the poll and then through the inside bit ring before feeding to the hand; or by clipping to the outside ring, threading behind the chin and then through the inside bit ring.
There are a number of problems with attaching a lunge line directly to the bit. Firstly, you will create nut cracker action on the horses tongue which will be particularly painful. There is a discussion later about the action of the hands on the horses mouth and how detrimental backwards hands – which press on the tongue – can be.
The long term preservation of the delicate mouth is vital for the schooling of the young horse!
Horses can be unpredicatble on the lunge; displaying playfullness. Such headshacking or bouncing around can cause the rider to jab at the horses mouth, even accidently.
Aside from the physical damage that both these problems can cause to the mouth; there is the psychological damage. For a horse to work correctly under saddle, he or she has to be able to trust the rider’s hands. If, from a young age and in the earliest education, the horse is taught that the bit causes pain; the prospect for good work under saddle isn’t good.
Some people choose to lunge from a headcollar or halter, believing that they are being kind to their horse. The problem here is that the handler has very little control at all over the horse. So, when working your horse from the ground, it is preferable to exert pressure onto the nose than to the mouth. This should ensure the handler some degree of control without the risk of damaging the oh so precious mouth.
The Use of Auxilary Reins and Gadgets
The horse should be allowed to move in his or her natural state. This means being free of constricting gadgets or reins. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, again, most of these cause pressure on the tongue which will cause pain to the horse. For the reasons above, we wish to avoid this at all costs. Secondly, many of these gadgets or reins do not work and cause additional pain or stress to the horse. The specific problems with individual gadgets will be discussed later. Thirdly, part of educating the horse should involve being able to change the rein without returning to halt. This is impossible unless the lunge is attached to the centre ring of a cavesson and the handler doesn’t have the additional job of switching reins and gadgets around with every change of direction. Lunging should be able gymnasticising the horse from word go. How is this possible when every change of direction takes five minutes to achieve?
Keep things simple. Being able to watch the horse moving, free of constraining influences is always refreshing and useful at identifying early problems.
The Position of the Handler and the Horse
The rider should be parallel to the horse at all times when lunging (with the exception of preparing for a change of direction.) The horse and rider should create a triangular shape; the horse as the base of the triangle. The lunge line being one side and the whip being the third with the rider comprising of the point.
The horse should move according to the rider. This should allow large circles, small voltes and changes of direction to be performed simply. Thr only pressure that the rider should attempt to exert on the horse, is to bend him inwards slightly. The primary aid should be the voice. At the earliest level, lunging familiarises the horse with the voice and the commands of the rider. These should therefore, be kept consistent.
The Change of Rein
The change of rein should be done, while in movement and without bring the horse back to a halt. This can be achieved by the rider stepping out infront of the horse and then pacing backwards while sending the horse onto the opposite rein.
So why do this?
Many people associate this as being nothing more than a "trick”; the realm of the competent ground handlers or perhaps the show offs? Indeed, there is a very valid reason for teaching the horse to change rein on the lunge without altering the pace. It is a well documented dominance exercise and a useful tool for creating a healthy relationship between the horse and handler whereby the horse has respect for the handers’ space. In addition, it allows for faster and more frequent changes of rein. Remembering again that lunging should be able the early gymnasticising of the young horse, the more frequent the changes of direction and speed, the better.